Photo By: Sharla George Photography
By: Lanny Stewart
Every junior hockey player who aspires to move on to the next level understands it’s not a cake walk. There are always challenges and it’s up to the player to meet those personal tests head on.
Case in point: Hunter Cloutier.
After last season’s rookie campaign that saw the 18-year-old forward come in and out of a veteran-laden lineup, playing in only 40 games during the regular season, Cloutier is now primed for a more prominent role with the club this year after getting into better shape and improving his conditioning level in the offseason.
“I just put more into it this year,” said the Winnipeg product, who has shed approximately 35 pounds since the beginning of last season. “The previous year, I wasn’t really focused on it enough and I took this for granted and I thought I could come into this league and just basically do the same stuff I did in midget. But I realized I had to take it more seriously.”
Cloutier recalls his discussion with team management during exit meetings after the conclusion of last season, and it was there where he decided it was time to really ramp up his training efforts.
“They (team management) told me I could have a bigger role and I realized just how many guys were moving on from the team, so I really thought about it and felt that if I changed my eating habits and what I put into my body, I could have more success this year.”
Cloutier focused on cutting out breads and pastas, all the while, getting more protein into his diet. He also made sure he got more sleep daily. All of this helped his energy levels, he says, which in turn, helped him when it came time to workout. He also began attending a cross-fit gym and upped his weekly cardio regimen.
“It didn’t feel great at the start… I mean, who would feel good when you get told to lose weight,” Cloutier said. “But I stepped back and just really took it into consideration. I felt that if I want to be the best player I can be, I’m going to have to do what I have to do.”
Cloutier credits everyone associated in his life – this includes his family, teammates, management, billets and his trainers – for helping him become the player he is today.
“There’s a lot of people to thank when it comes to the help that’s been given to me.”
Jamie Hodson, director of business and hockey operations for the Oil Caps, says management has reiterated to him since he first donned an Oil Caps sweater what he’s capable of if he really puts everything he can into it.
“The sky’s the limit for him. If you do well in junior, you could eventually find yourself in college hockey or whatever the case may be. When it came to our team, we knew he was going to play a big role with us this year, so for him to be successful and for us to be successful, we really wanted him coming to camp in great shape and to really start the season off running this year and he’s done just that.”
Hodson says for as much help management has provided, it’s Cloutier who put in the work.
“It’s all really been Hunter. It’s about Hunter putting his head down and going to work and making himself a better hockey player. From a team standpoint, we’re extremely excited at how he’s ran with this and taken this very positively. Personally, I’m very happy for him.”
Troy Leslie, head coach and GM for the Oil Caps, says there’s a reason he was a third round pick in the 2015 MJHL Bantam Draft – and that he’s continuing to improve each night out.
“We got him for his offensive prowess and we knew right away that he saw the ice quite well and that he can shoot the puck. Last year was a tough year for him in terms of getting into the lineup because the forward group was so deep, but he definitely put in the work this summer.”
Early this season, Cloutier has found himself on a forward line that sees the ice regularly with veteran Kolten Kanaski and rookie Brett Paddock. He’s also seen time on the power play.
“He’s going to have to be in good physical condition in order to play the type of minutes that he’s going to get this year,” Leslie added. “He’s 18 years old and we need to be patient with him, but we know he’s going to evolve into a very good player in our league. He knew what he had ahead of him going into the summer and he definitely checked off all the boxes of what he had to do to become a better player for us this year.”
His teammates are also impressed with what he’s been able to accomplish.
“He’s worked very hard to get better this summer and it not only shows in his physical appearance,” said Oil Caps captain Ben Dalke. “You can see it in his everyday approach at the rink. He has a much better mindset and has newfound confidence.”
Davies: ‘I challenged him’
Brock Davies, Oil Caps strength and conditioning coach, has seen first-hand the progress Cloutier has made since he began working with him at the beginning of last season.
“We set a goal in-season (last year) and he was able to lose about five pounds. At the end of the season, he knew that he needed to come back in better shape to increase his performance output as a second-year player, so I challenged him to try and cut down to 175 pounds,” Davies said. “He surpassed that goal and has come back more determined and in better shape. It goes to show how a little bit of hard work off the ice can have a drastic impact on the ice. I’m very proud of what he’s accomplished this summer and I look forward to watching him continue to develop this season.”
‘A noticeable change’
Even Kurt Ardron, Oil Caps PA announcer, has noticed a difference in Cloutier.
“I have to admit I’ve done a couple of double takes seeing Hunter on the ice in the early goings of this hockey season,” Ardron said. “You can tell that he’s definitely worked hard in the offseason. There’s a noticeable change to be sure. I’m guessing that his overall health has improved, and that can only help his development moving forward.”